Monday, April 18, 2011

You can see the edge of the world from here.

I've been on a bit of a Robert Kaplan jag recently. I've just finished Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus and now I'm about two-thirds done with The Ends of the Earth: From Togo to Turkmenistan, from Iran to Cambodia, a Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy.

Kaplan is an intelligent and descriptive writer who is obviously fascinated by the history and the culture of wherever he happens to be standing, plus it's hard not to like a guy who, during his visit to Qom in Iran in the mid-'90s, tells about the time he was visiting with a couple of Shi'ite seminary students in their apartment and they asked him a question:
"You are so interested in us, but what about you? What is your religious background? Americans can be many things, we have heard."

"I am Jewish."

Whether he's hanging with Mujaheddin in Afghanistan back during the Russian invasion or fast-talking drunken AK-wielding Ivoirian soldiers off the aid truck on which he's hitchhiking in western Africa, it's the kind of travel writing that constantly reminds you that the definition of "adventure" is "Godawful and uncomfortable things happening to other people thousands of miles away from me."

8 comments:

Shootin' Buddy said...

Did he go to a Turkish barber?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTf6ImbMH_c

Bubblehead Les. said...

The "Joys of Adventure" wouldn't be too bad if only there was Background Music.

Joanna said...

One of my mantras is "Adventures suck while you're actually having them." Doesn't stop me from setting out on them, though (although right now, I'm limited to trying the things SigOth orders at sushi restaurants. Octopus, ahoy!)

Noah D said...

What did you think of his 'Imperial Grunts' and the sequel?

Boat Guy said...

Kaplan is a decent travel writer and I understand YMMV. Read Balkan Ghosts after it became near-required reading as THE au courant resource. Kaplan was OK prep, but my experience diverged significantly from what I'd read.
Again, there was some "divergence" in Imperial Grunts based on my expeience and those of friends much closer to the fight. That said, I might bum a copy of the "Hog Pilots" book, simply because Hog Pilots are among my favorite people

Paul said...

I read both "Imperial Grunts" and "Hog Pilots", and his other book when he went into Afghanistan in the 90's. . What was the name of that book--Soldiers of God, or something. . .

Anyway I thought Imperial Grunts and Hog Pilots were some of the best books written on current military affairs. . . He obviously has an affection for the military and what they do, but he makes you understand why in his books. . .

Also he made a very good point in one of these books about how the typical Afghan male has such a crappy existence that fighting and dying are really not that big a deal.

But a fat and comfortable typical American has much more to lose, hence less willing to fight and die---for anything. . .I'm speaking of civilians here. .

DirtCrashr said...

I liked "Hog Pilots." Need to read some of his other stuff - am told or read somewhere (NRO?) "Monsoon" was a bit off-game.

J.R.Shirley said...

Got guts, that's for sure.